Iraq's Shi'ite militias announced on Monday they will participate in the next major battle against the Islamic State group after the Iraqi forces' victory in Mosul last month.
The Shi'ite militias did not fight in the urban part of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, but were key in clearing far-flung villages of IS and capturing supply lines in the desert west of Mosul toward Iraq's border with Syria.
The spokesman for the government-sanctioned umbrella — known as the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF and mostly made up of Shi'ite militias — says the participation of the militiamen is "essential" in the upcoming fight for the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. About 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Syrian border, Tal Afar was once home to both Shiites and Sunni ethnic Turkmen.
"Today we want to speak loud and clear that [the PMF] are actively involved in Tal Afar military operations and will participate in all areas where operations are taking place," Ahmed al-Asadi told reporters in Baghdad.
In past fights against IS in Iraq, including the battles for the cities of Tikrit and Fallujah, the Shi'ite militias were accused of sectarian killings and other abuses against minority Sunnis. They acknowledge some abuses may have occurred but say those responsible have been disciplined.
Monday's announcement may increase tensions between Iraq and neighboring Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has repeatedly warned that military operations in and around Mosul should not lead to any demographic changes on the ground, reflecting concerns that once territory is liberated from IS, Iraqi Kurdish or Shi'ite forces may push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmen.